I. Stavtseva, O. Silkina

South Ural State University (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
Academic writing is the activity and skill of high importance in education nowadays, as it not only develops critical thinking but also brings professional competence to a new level. For linguists it is essential because their career is mainly connected with text analysis and interpretation followed by integration of new knowledge into a final product. Moreover, it is significant for the students majoring in linguistics to acquire academic writing skills from the beginning of their educational process to avoid further gaps in professional linguistic competence. Besides, the contemporary digitalized world requires new approaches to teaching methods and interaction with students, who are accustomed to choosing their own personal trajectory online and in the real world seen as one unlimited opportunity.

Therefore, the objective of the paper is to present the academic writing online course developed by the authors for the blended learning syllabus and prove its necessity to the contemporary education. To address the issue the authors implemented a certain structural pattern for each unit combining classroom communicative activities with at home online studies. Thus, the online course is built to correspond to the overall blended learning goal: acquiring academic writing skills via learning a particular set of essay types (narrative, cause and effect, comparative and contrast, problem-solution, summary-response, argumentative). Each essay type is firstly presented at class by organizing a group discussion around a topic or a case from everyday life that can be rendered by means of academic writing elements.

Further, the students work online at home, taking full advantage of:
1) academic essay model vs authentic article with essay elements;
2) essay writing guides (text, presentations, and video);
3) quizzes on understanding writing theory and practice;
4) academic and topical vocabulary training activities;
5) open teacher evaluated essay writing task. In the middle and at the end of the course the students have a teacher evaluated checkpoint at the classroom where they write one of the essays learnt.

Besides, afterwards they take a peer-review checkpoint online where they randomly get one of all the six essay types to write and a few (3-5 depending on the group size) essays to read and mark according to the given rubrics of criteria. The whole course ends up with a project ‘Academic Writing in my Career’ where the students present the newspaper featuring their best works organized and structured according to the group’s overall idea.

The authors tested the given academic writing online course in the group of the second-year students majoring in linguistics at the South Ural State University and then compared learning outcomes and feedback of the experimental vs. control groups. As a result, the students from the experimental group demonstrated more motivation and interest, deeper understanding of the writing prompts and better use of the structures; their homework activity became easily traceable. According to the feedback, it was easier for the students to hand in the essays online and they had a clear idea where to get contemporary online materials, as the authors collected the links around the topics. The difficulties, however, appeared with the first introduction of the online part. Overall, the obtained results proved the necessity of a specially designed online course to the education of contemporary digitally oriented students.